Questions From Life Group

Questions From Life Group, Part 1 of Many

Question: How do we get better at hearing what God is saying? 

Recently, I presented a poll to our small bible study group. The intent of this poll was to find out what kinds of questions were on the minds and hearts of those that frequent my home. Today I have decided to handle these questions one at a time, responding in a written format so that I may respond in full and hopefully lay to rest the anxieties of my friends. I will try to anticipate your thoughts and concerns as I write, but it’s likely I will do this poorly. So as always, feel free to ask more questions! To my friends, this is for you! 

The Three Presuppositions

I have found it most beneficial to begin answering a complicated question by first taking time to analyze the most apparent implied presuppositions of the question. After doing this, if I disagree with the propositions I would tend to address them one at a time and demonstrate my reasons for disagreement. In my mind this is a fine way to work because in laying these out, often I find the answer becomes apparent to me. Today, however, I agree with the three presuppositions of the question and therefore I will spend little to not time dealing with them.

The first presupposition in this question is that God speaks. To the Christian this is obvious and foundational and to my audience I don’t think this requires much treatment (nor will any of the three presuppositions I find in this question, actually). I do want to use this opportunity to thank my sponsors over at.. just kidding. I don’t get paid for this.

The second presupposition of this question is that we can hear God when he speaks. Some people believe that God cannot speak to humans because he is so “wholly other” than us. The reason this is not true is because God is not actually “wholly other” than us, in fact, it is clearly stated that we were made in his image (Genesis). If there be any lack of certainty in believing God speaks to us, I would point you to Jesus. We believe Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus spoke. Therefore, God speaks to us. It’s a simple argument, really.

The third presupposition is that we possess the ability to influence our reception of God’s speaking. God is the radio tower sending out a constant signal, just waiting to be picked up by your antenna. And we have the ability to position the antenna just right in order to receive the clearest broadcast. As far as I can see, this is a fine analogy to the reality of how God is operating.

So now that I have agreed that God speaks, we can hear him, and we can do something about it, let’s answer the question.

My Response to the Question

It would seem to me that God has spoken in three different ways throughout history. First, through the priests and prophets in the days of old. This includes Moses, Samuel, David, etc (Acts 2:29-31) Second, he has spoken definitively through his son Jesus the Messiah (Hebrews 1:1-4). Jesus is the Word of God (John 1), meaning whatever God speaks Jesus does. In other words, what you see and hear Jesus doing, you see and hear God doing (John 5:19). The third and final way God speaks is directly to believers through his Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15-16, 9:1, Galatians 5:18). Let’s look closer at these three.

Regarding The First and Second Way God Has Spoken

I include together the priests and prophets with Jesus because Jesus is preserved for us in the text of scripture, much like the priests and prophets. Outside of this book, we have nothing else to look to. It could be said then, with perhaps only a small amount of overstatement, that the entire Christian faith is dependent upon the Bible. As early as Moses and continuing on with Joshua and every single prophet to follow, God commanded that they write down what he spoke to them (Exodus 34:27) because in his words he not only revealed himself, but he made promises regarding how he was going to interact with Israel, his then chosen people. These promises guide the people of God in every way (Joshua 1:8). When Jesus came, he did not get rid of these written words of God (Matthew 5:17), but fulfilled their highest meanings and established new promises with us, a new covenant (Luke 22:20). The church is, according to one biblical analogy, the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2). This analogy is pertinent because it demonstrates the peculiar nature of Christians, in that we are chosen by God for God, much the same way Israel was. God worked with his people Israel primarily through his written word, and he does the same with you (1 Corinthians 10:11). So yes, God speaks. And yes, we can hear him speak, because we can read his words. But there is more to the formula than words + reading = hearing. There is a third and most crucial component. Words + reading + Holy Spirit = hearing.

Regarding The Third

The Holy Spirit is to us no different than the blood within our body. Without the Spirit, there is no new life. It is because of him that we are able to understand the words we are reading, and believe the truths they are telling (Mathew 16:17, 1 Corinthians 2:14, John 14:26). Anyone can read scripture, and anyone can intellectually believe what scripture has to say, but to believe it in a way that gives life to your soul and joy to your heart and rest to your mind, you require the Holy Spirit. So then what we have is God speaking through his Prophets, then his Son, then writing it down along the way and illuminating our minds to understand and believe and receive life through the writings by his Holy Spirit.

I wanted to lay out what I think are the three ways God speaks to us before answering the question, “How do we get better at hearing what God is saying?”. Now that I’ve done so, lets get to the answer!

My Answer Is Here, Seriously, I Promise

  1. Be Always Exposed to the Scriptures
      • Read the Bible. Lists are fun. But more importantly, this is an incredibly basic truth that is repeated to death for one reason alone – it’s true. If God himself has inspired the scripture (aka he wrote it), and it includes everything we need to live a godly life (2 Timothy 3:16) then we should expect to hear him clearly if we are reading his words. If there is anything that is always true about my life, it is that when I retreat from reading the bible diligently, purposefully, and daily I fall away from the godly life I am called to. It’s going to be true for you, too.
      • Pray the Bible. I could just have easily said “Pray”, but I like “Pray The Bible” because I feel it is a little more pertinent for someone asking this question. What do I mean? Well, as we recently discussed in one of our bible studies, what anyone is most likely to pray about on a daily basis is first themselves, then spouses and close relatives and friends, then work and anxieties, and then plans and the future. So I say pray the bible because we are most clearly going to be praying the mind and heart of God and therefore exposing our own mind and heart to his. I submit to you the best thing you can do if you are struggling to hear what God is saying is to pray back to God what God has given to you. This is a reflection of what we do with our lives, anyways. We have nothing to offer God but worship, and our worship comes from a heart he has given us. So in it’s simplest form, our life is an offering to God of the gift from God. Let your prayers be the same thing. Pray through the epistles. Pray through the Psalms. Pray through the Proverbs. Let each line with its promises, statements, hope, glory, and everything else be the spark that ignites your prayer.
      • Memorize the Bible. This is perhaps one of the most life-giving yet perpetually neglected spiritual disciplines of the church. I’m not sure I want to devote much space to this portion because I am not sure I can say it more plainly than the scripture itself.
        • The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
        • With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
        • I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
        • How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
        • Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lordand who meditates on his law day and night.
        • Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.
        • Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
        • Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
        • Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
  2. Prayerfully Seek the Spirit
    • For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. It doesn’t get more direct than this. This is the bread and butter of the Christian life. In fact, the Christian life is impossible without the Holy Spirit. You could never please God without his Spirit because you would never have faith without his Spirit. So regardless of whether you feel attuned to and connected with God at the moment, the fact is you are. If you want to hear God speaking, you need to be in greater relationship with his Spirit. There is a serious error in the Christian church when we think about the Holy Spirit as some mystical substance that we are filled with, as if he is water and we a cup. The Holy Spirit is a person, he is God. So to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit means to be filled with God. It means to be close to God. It means to be in great relationship with God. And what does it take to be in relationship with God? “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.” (Proverbs 8:17). 
    • Being led, and hearing God’s voice, also requires hating what God hates and being obedient to what God requires. We recently worked our way through Galatians. Perhaps you remember in chapter 5 Paul says, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
  3. Be Surrounded by the Church.
    • Pastors, Teachers, Preachers, Elders, and everyone in between. The most powerful and repeated metaphor used by Paul to represent the Christian identity is to call us the “body of Christ”. The Christian life should never, ever be thought of in isolation. The moment God called Abraham he promised him a nation. When he called Moses he led him to the nation. When God came to earth in the tabernacle he did so in the presence of a nation. When Jesus began his ministry he gathered together a group of disciples. And when the Spirit came at Pentecost he came upon thousands. You are not a Christian as much as you ARE Christian. It’s important to think of yourself this way because it is then you will understand the importance of being connected to the body. In relation to our question for today about hearing God’s voice, this applies because you are one of millions of Christian’s listening for God’s voice. What better way to understand if what you’re hearing is God than to check it against the counsel of others who are wise and mature? What better way to resist an enemy of war (Satan) than to have beside you a band of brothers? If you want to hear God’s voice more clearly, and your life isn’t saturated with other Christians, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. 
  4. Intentionally Resist Your Enemy
    • Satan Hates You. Often I speak of the Christian life as warfare (thanks John Piper). Satan doesn’t want you dead, he want’s you obliterated. He doesn’t want you to lose, you wants you to be rejected. He doesn’t want you to be unhappy, he wants you to lose the very meaning of life. The seriousness of our enemy ought not be understated and the importance of our fight in resisting him ought not be neglected. If we pay attention to what Satan is saying, then we will improve our ability to filter that out and hear what God is saying. “…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Corinthians 2:11)

So there you have it. Be constantly exposed to Scripture. Seek the Holy Spirit. Be surrounded by Christ’s people. Be engaged in the fight against Satan. There is of course much more I could say, but Laura has informed me no one wants to read a blog post this long. Despite that, I do have a few more thoughts that I would love for you to consider, if of course you are even reading this far.

Additional Consideration: The Presence of God is Conditional (Sorta)

“Sorta” is a very important qualifier. I am not saying that God’s presence will leave the Christian based upon their performance. But at the same time, I’m KIND OF saying that. Why? James 4:7-10.

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Do you see the pattern here? Do this, and then this will happen. Resist the Devil and he will flee. Draw near to god and he will draw near to you. Do this, get that. It’s very important that you believe this before you go about doing the stuff I mentioned earlier, for two reasons.

The first reason is that you do have responsibility to pursue God in this life. And when you do, He is there. But when you begin to love the world again his presence rescinds from you to some degree. He does this because he loves you. Synthesize together Hebrews 13:5 and Isaiah 64:7 and I think you will understand what I mean. As a way of leading you closer to himself, he “withdraws” from you because of your rebellious heart and abundance of sinning. This WILL cause discomfort and unhappiness in the Christian heart, and it will lead this person back to God, however long it takes. Knowing this, always remember He has promised to never leave you in the ultimate, final, conclusive sense.

The second reason is because we can have confidence that when we turn to God he will be right there. It might not feel that way right away. Seriously, it might not feel that way for a long time. But we don’t operate based on feelings, we operate based on promises. And God has promised to never leave you. So if you want to hear his voice better, purify yourself, stop sinning, seek the Lord, and you will find him.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

In Love.

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